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What is a workplace investigation?

A workplace investigation is a fact-finding exercise to collect information relating to a formal complaint, grievance, or a disciplinary matter. The investigator should be independent of the matter being investigated. Often investigators can be a senior manager or an external investigator including a solicitor.

It is important to strike the correct tone of any workplace investigation from the outset, the parties should not be antagonistic and approach the exercise with an open mind.

Fair procedure should always be followed, as the investigation may become relevant in any scrutiny by the Employment Tribunal (ET) into the fairness of any subsequent dismissal. This may leave the employer vulnerable to legal action from a dismissed employee.

Contact Our Workplace Investigation Team

When are HR Investigations necessary?

To ensure the fairness of any investigation it is integral that the investigating officer be independent and impartial as well possessing the necessary training and experience.

Where an employee raises a grievance or an allegation of harassment, which is complex or highly sensitive, it may be necessary for the investigator to be a member of the company’s HR team rather than a senior manager.

This may be appropriate where there is an allegation of disability discrimination and where the investigation may require specialist knowledge of employment law and workplace regulations.

How long does it take to conduct a workplace investigation?

Many companies will have policies or procedures, which will indicate timescales for an investigation. If there is no specified period, then employers should provide a provisional timescale at the start of the investigation.

The length of any investigation will be dependent on the complexity of the issue being investigated, if the matter is complex then an investigation could take several weeks to conclude. If the matter is relatively simple it is reasonable for the investigation to conclude quicker.

Regardless of the complexity, the process that should be followed is the same:

Step 1 – Organisation preparation

Decide whether an investigation is necessary and, if so, who would be a suitable and independent investigator.

Step 2 – An investigator’s preparation

Identify any evidence which needs to be gathered, decide who might need to be called as witnesses and contact the parties involved in the matter.

Step 3 – Handling an investigation meeting

Interview the parties involved and any relevant witnesses.

Step 4 – Gathering evidence

Arrange and agree witness statements, and collate relevant evidence.

Step 5 – Report the investigation findings

Write an investigation report which is impartial and based on what is likely to have happened on the balance of probabilities as well as make any recommendations (i.e. whether any further action is necessary).

How is a workplace investigation resolved?

Once an investigator has submitted their report they will no longer be involved in the process, unless they are required to discuss the report with the employee or attend a disciplinary hearing.

It becomes the responsibility of the relevant decision maker to decide whether any further action should be taken and if any of the investigator’s recommendations should be adopted.

If the decision maker decides to differ from the investigator’s recommendation, then the reasons should be written down and included in an addendum to the report.

How can our solicitors assist with workplace investigations?

We offer in-house training on how to conduct an effective workplace investigation, which covers each stage of an investigation and includes best practice advice.

This can provide managers with the skills that will enable them to conduct internal investigations with confidence.

We can also tailor our training and interactive case studies to your organisation’s policies and practices.

Sometimes, it is not possible to find an internal independent investigator who has no personal involvement with the events and/or with the individual(s) concerned, or they may not have the relevant training and experience to deal with the matter. In these cases, our employment law team can provide you with independent support.

Contact Our Workplace Investigation Team

Key Contact

Helen Watson

Helen Watson

Partner | Head of Employment Law

Helen has been Head of the Employment Team at Aaron and Partners LLP for over 16 years and is an experienced Tribunal Advocate, Accredited Mediator and Workplace Investigator. Helen is also a Chartered Director and Executive Boardroom Coach.

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